Debate Forum 3/1/11

The Showdown between State Government and its Workers

The Wisconsin Assembly, early Friday, passed a bill that would strip most public workers of their collective bargaining rights.

This legislation is part of Republican Governor Scott Walker’s legislative agenda as he sets out to tackle the problem of the state’s $137 million deficit for the remaining fiscal year and to address the projected $3.6 billion shortfall in the upcoming 2011-13 state budget. The vote ended with three long days of debate that saw thousands of government workers fill the statehouse in protest of the proposed legislation, but the political standoff looms on.

The measure now goes to the Senate, where minority Democrats have been missing for a week, preventing a vote in that chamber. Although Republicans hold a 19-14 majority,  a quorum of 20 lawmakers is needed to vote on spending bills. At this point it’s not certain when the Wisconsin Senate Democrats will return from their reported ‘hideout’ in Illinois.

Republicans have pointed out that Democrats in Indiana have also gone to Illinois, accusing them of “hiding out” for the purpose of preventing a quorum in their state’s legislature.

Unions have so strongly insisted that their members maintain collective bargaining rights that they have stated that they will only accept a provision that would increase workers’ contributions to their pensions and health care, provided they could still bargain collectively. Governor Walker has yet to compromise.

This scenario is now being repeated in Ohio and Indiana where new Republican majorities and Republican governors are attempting to reduce the growth of government spending by reining in the benefits secured by the public service unions. There is a public sentiment, as reflected in recent polls, that public employees haven’t had to share the pain of the recent financial crisis with the rest of the workforce.

Those arguing against the legislation call the effort to limit collective bargaining a political move rather than an economic policy. The unions state that they are ready to make concessions. They have agreed to increase their share of their retirement contribution and for the amounts they pay towards their health insurance premiums. They argue that these current Republican proposals go too far and they are in fact an attempt to crush the public service unions.

Those who support Governor Walker and Governor John Kasich point to the reasons these governors are trying to limit the power of public employees’ unions. They argue that public service unions have a major advantage. Unlike construction workers, automobile workers and all other private sector unions, they can play a major role in voting their bosses in or out. Supporters of the move to limit collective bargaining point out that these unions make political contributions to mount advertising campaigns and run phone banks. And this power, it is argued, has enabled them to distort the system, especially when it comes to work rules, health benefits and pensions.

In the private sector, if a business makes concessions which are too generous, the company will go out of business. In collective bargaining with public service unions, the business, which is the government, will never go out of business. Instead the taxpayer will be asked to dig into their pocket to pay for the increases.
Forum Question:

Are the actions of the Wisconsin governor and the Ohio governor in limiting collective bargaining really necessary for the fiscal survival of their states or are they using the fiscal crisis to  attack public sector unions?

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